Those of you that follow the GAA may have noticed the recent uproar in the media over the bust-up between the Clare hurling manager, Davy Fitzgerald, and two of his players, Davy O’Halloran and Nicky O’Connell, both of whom subsequently left the county panel. The incident revolved around the two players violating the team’s ‘Code of Conduct,’ according to Fitzgerald, after being spotted out socialising with friends four days before a match. Neither could play in the match because of injury, yet both were harshly disciplined, in the view of many, for their alleged misconduct. They were isolated from their teammates for a three week period, forced to train separately, do extra training, and were not allowed to use the changing facilities or wear the county gear. Unsurprisingly this sparked furious debate in the media about the expectations placed on intercounty hurlers and footballers, with Joe Brolly leading the charge. Nicky O’Connell has since apologised and returned to the Clare panel one month after exiting the county setup. Davy O’Halloran, however, joined the county football team instead.

Developing Trust

It is not for me to say how an intercounty hurling team should be run, but when applied to a work setting the incident does beg the question of how management should engage with staff in the workplace, and what the right balance is between trust and discipline. Most companies will outline in a handbook what the guidelines are. But any company that aspires to be great needs to develop a degree of trust between managers and employees. What we are seeing in progressive companies is that they empower staff and develop a level of trust that gets the best possible performance out of each individual.

A Great Place to Work

The Great Place to Work Group identifies trust as ‘the single most important ingredient in making a workplace great.’ They have developed a Trust Index that they use to survey employees of companies that are nominated for the Great Place to Work Awards. They assess five principle criteria to determine if a company is a great workplace. These criteria are defined by the relationships that exist between an employee and their management, an employee and their colleagues, and an employee and their work. The five criteria are credibility, fairness and respect in the employee management relationship, camaraderie with colleagues, and pride in the job that they do. One would wonder how county panels would fair were their squads to take the Trust Index Survey today.
Collins McNicholas has placed for the Great Place Awards for the last five years in a row.

The Benefits of Building Trust

The key to building trust is to give it first. Managers must be willing to trust their employees, and also be able to develop the employee’s trust in them. Trust can only work properly when it runs in both directions. To achieve this, managers should communicate well, allow their employees to express their opinions freely, be genuine and honest, follow through on their promises, and treat all of their employees equally. Employees need to feel a sense of purpose, to understand what it is they contribute and why it is important. If they feel that they bring value to the organisation, and feel they are part of a team, they will contribute more. Employee engagement is central to a thriving workplace and this can only happen when a culture of trust is developed. I attended the Great Place to Work Awards recently in Dublin. Many of the most admired companies in Ireland were at this event, including Intel, SAP, Abbvie, Genzyme, Bayer, Pepsi and numerous others. There was much discussion throughout the evening about what makes a workplace great and the themes of trust and employee engagement came up again and again. Jim Barry, Managing Director of the Barry Group, who spoke at the event, summarised this view by saying, ‘if you have an engaged, team your customers will get better service.’

Trust in GAA Teams

Increasingly we are hearing about intercounty teams that are implementing strict codes of conduct that outline how players are to spend their free time. But does it defeat the purpose if players have to sign a code of conduct? Is this really the way to elicit the best performances from intercounty players? County teams provide their players with a lot of expert advice on how to prepare their bodies and minds to perform at their peak. They have nutritionists, strength and conditioning coaches, physiotherapists, skills coaches, and sports psychologists. In an environment with this level of awareness surely players can be trusted to make the right decisions by themselves so that they are able to perform at their optimum level.


Sport is a results business. Trust takes time to build and many managers will adopt a short term approach because they feel they haven’t the time to develop this culture of trust. If they don’t win straight away they fear they will lose their job. Will a new style of management appear that gives players more flexibility to manage their personal lives? Teams are finding it harder and harder to defend the Championship after they win it the first time. Could this more trusting approach improve performances in the medium to long term, and lead to a more sustained level of excellence? After all, to quote Jim Barry again, ‘you’ve got nothing if you haven’t got trust.’


Niall Murray

Managing Director

Collins McNicholas Recruitment & HR Services